When, Where and How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

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Gabrielle Myska

Pinpoint when to buy

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to start shopping, now’s your chance.

Sales tax holidays are saving shoppers money on back to school in 17 states across the country in 2016. These limited-time events often fall in August, and they give shoppers a break on sales tax in certain school-oriented product categories, such as apparel and electronics.

But even if your state doesn’t participate — or you missed it — expect back-to-school sales to continue throughout August and into September. In August, retailers offer deep discounts on writing utensils, backpacks and more.

That’s welcome news. Families with children in grades K-12 plan to spend an average of about $670 on 2016 back-to-school shopping, according to the National Retail Federation.

If sales don’t impact enough of your purchases, and you can’t afford to buy everything at once, spread it out. Students generally need the essentials — a backpack and a lunch bag — on the first day of school, but some items — markers and glue — can wait. Make less crucial purchases in September, if necessary.

Map out where to shop

For 55% of Americans, price is the most influential factor in deciding whether to buy specific back-to-school items, according to a 2016 survey by cash-back website Ebates.

Implement savings techniques

You know where and when to buy, but how else can you save? Here are NerdWallet’s best school shopping tips:

  • Find the best price. Compare prices from multiple retailers by conducting a Google search or using a tool like ShopSavvy. In most cases, you’ll need proof of a competitor’s price if you want to request a price match.

  • Do the math. Calculate the price per unit to make sure you’re getting the best deal, even when items are sold in different amounts. Paying $6 for a pack of 20 pens (30 cents per pen), for instance, is better than paying $4 for a four-pack ($1 per pen).

  • Know the return policy. Check the store’s return policy before you make major purchases, such as laptops and tablets. It’s usually listed on the website. Look for the length of the return window and any items that are final sale or non-returnable.

  • Buy online, pick up in store. Many retailers give their shoppers incentives to buy online and pick up their items in store. Some offer free shipping to your local store — including Kohl’s and Wal-Mart — while others discount your order or, like Macy’s, provide a coupon for next time.

  • Shop with a credit card. Using credit cards for back-to-school shopping can boost your savings, thanks to promotional deals and cash-back offers. Some give bonus points for purchases at department stores or wholesale clubs.


Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.


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Post Category: Education, General, Public/Private School

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